Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, Aug. 14, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
“We have more work to do” to combat the novel coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday while visiting Okanogan County, a virus hot spot in the north-central part of the state. He noted that widespread mask use had helped beat back the virus in another hot spot, Yakima County.
According to a New York Times analysis of estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 200,000 more people in the United States have died than usual since March, which is about 60,000 higher than the number of deaths that have been directly linked to the coronavirus. And most Americans won’t be able to get the shots until spring or summer next year at the earliest.
Throughout Friday, on this page, we’ll be posting updates on the outbreak and its effects on the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Updates from Thursday can be found here, and all our coronavirus coverage can be found here.
Seattle Public Schools may delay the start of the school year to train teachers in ‘remote learning best practices’
Seattle Public Schools may delay the start of the school year so teachers can train on “remote learning best practices,” according to a district newsletter sent Friday.
The district’s website said this possible delay was a topic of negotiations with the teachers union, which have been underway since June. Classes are scheduled to start Sept. 2.
It is unclear by how long the school year would be delayed. SPS spokesman Tim Robinson declined to share more information, citing ongoing bargaining. Union officials were not immediately available for comment.
The district and the union have been discussing work expectations for this fall, sparring over the prospect of some instructors providing in-person services. This marks the third straight summer when bargaining talks have cast doubt over the first day of school.
Robinson denied that the idea of a delayed start was being explored because not enough teachers were trained in the spring and summer.
The district has offered some opportunities to brush up on skills since the closures. Since spring, over 1,400 educators took a course on Schoology, the district’s learning management system, according to a fall “reopening” plan the district submitted to the state. A few hundred more took different courses on topics like recording videos for the internet and digital citizenship. The union represents about 6,000 SPS employees.
King County to hand out face masks to county residents next week
The King County health department will be handing out face masks to the public next week during a drive-thru event in Rainier Beach.
Public Health — Seattle & King County will distribute masks to people on Thursday, Aug. 20, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool, located at 8825 Rainier Ave. South. Only King County residents are eligible to receive masks next week, according to the event's Facebook page.
Attendees can enter at the parking lot entrance and drive up to the Amazon Treasure truck, where they'll tell staffers the number of people in their family. They can receive two cloth, reusable masks per family member for up to six family members, the department said.
Amazon downplays latest relocation rumors, but experts say COVID makes Seattle even less attractive
Amazon is downplaying the latest report that it plans to shift Seattle employees to the suburbs, but business leaders and economic experts warn that, with the pandemic, expensive cities like Seattle face an increasing risk of a corporate exodus.
On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Amazon had offered its Seattle-based employees the choice of working in five outlying communities: Bothell/Woodinville, Renton, Tacoma, Redmond, or Issaquah.
The report, which cited an internal Amazon message that was briefly posted on Reddit, suggested that “the Covid-19 outbreak and a new local employers tax have pushed the e-commerce giant to consider alternatives to its hometown.”
On Friday, Amazon tamped down the idea. The Seattle-based online retailer, which normally has around 50,000 employees in Seattle, declined to comment publicly on the Bloomberg reports, but a source familiar with the matter said Amazon workers simply were queried as part of a routine survey.
Limited data show less than half of Seattle’s elementary school kids logged in to district’s online portal last spring
According to the only metric available for student engagement in Seattle last spring, less than half of elementary school kids logged into the district’s learning portal after Seattle Public Schools shut down for the coronavirus.
Between March and June, only 48% of kindergarten through fifth graders logged on to Schoology, the district’s learning management system where teachers post assignments and announcements. For student populations the district has sworn to serve better, the rates are lower.
The data, provided to Seattle School Board members this month before they approved the district’s plan to start remotely in the fall doesn’t capture all student engagement. To be counted, all you had to do was sign on once.
But ahead of a new school year that will at least start remotely, the numbers shed light on the challenges of online learning — particularly when it comes to serving young and vulnerable students at a critical point in their education.
Washington state confirms 800 new COVID-19 cases and 19 new deaths
State health officials reported 800 new COVID-19 cases in Washington on Friday afternoon, and 19 new deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 66,139 cases and 1,755 deaths, meaning that 2.7% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
The DOH is in the process of changing its methodology for reporting testing numbers and isn't currently reporting the percent of tests in the state that have been positive.
In King County, the state most populous, state health officials have confirmed 17,308 diagnoses, 2,136 hospitalizations and 689 deaths. The rate of deaths is 4%.
Virus flareups in Europe lead to club closings, mask orders
PARIS — New flareups of COVID-19 are disrupting the peak summer vacation season across much of Europe, where authorities in some countries are reimposing restrictions on travelers, closing nightclubs again, banning fireworks displays and expanding mask orders even in chic resort areas.
“Unfortunately, this virus doesn’t play ball,” British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.
The surges have spread alarm across Europe, which suffered mightily during the spring but appeared in recent months to have largely tamed the coronavirus in ways that the U.S., with its vaunted scientific prowess and the extra time to prepare, cannot seem to manage. The continent’s hardest-hit countries, Britain, Italy, France and Spain, have recorded about 140,000 deaths in all.
By sea, rail or by air, Brits scramble to get out of France
LONDON — Cars lined up at ports while trains and planes filled out fast as British tourists scurried to get out of France on Friday before a deadline that would require them to quarantine at home for two weeks.
Families cut summer vacations short and other travelers made hasty plans to return to the U.K. by whatever means possible before the 4 a.m. Saturday deadline. Eurostar trains between Paris and London and airport lounges that were almost empty earlier in the coronavirus pandemic filled with passengers. Those with more means opted for private jets.
The exodus was prompted by the British government’s decision late Thursday to take France off a list of nations exempt from traveler quarantine requirements because of a sharp rise there in new virus infections. For those who cannot work from home on their return, the mandatory self-quarantine could see them penalized financially.
The U.K. move has the potential to upend the plans of those planning trips in the days ahead, particularly of families during the run-up to schools reopening in September. French businesses running campsites in Brittany, wine-tasting tours in the Loire Valley or mountain treks in the Alps also have reason to worry.
U.S. will prepare coronavirus strain for potential human challenge trials
U.S. researchers will create a strain of the coronavirus that could be used in possible vaccine trials called human challenge experiments, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview Friday.
The United States isn’t committed to embarking on such ethically fraught trials but has begun the process to create a stock of coronavirus strain that could be used to infect people, in case such trials become necessary, Fauci said. He called it a “Plan C or Plan D,” a preliminary step being taken because creating a strain that meets exacting regulatory standards will take months. Large, 30,000-person trials that are testing the effectiveness of experimental vaccines are likely to yield results sooner and provide much-needed safety data.
“You generally do [human challenge trials] if you don’t have enough infections in the community at any given time to get a signal from the vaccine,” Fauci said. “Unfortunately for us, we don’t have that problem — we have a lot of infections.”
Study hints, but can’t prove, that survivor plasma fights COVID-19
Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong hint that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors helps other patients recover, but it’s not proof and some experts worry if, amid clamor for the treatment, they’ll ever get a clear answer.
More than 64,000 patients in the U.S. have been given convalescent plasma, a century-old approach to fend off flu and measles before vaccines. It’s a go-to tactic when new diseases come along, and history suggests it works against some, but not all, infections.
There’s no solid evidence yet that it fights the coronavirus and, if so, how best to use it. But preliminary data from 35,000 coronavirus patients treated with plasma offers what Mayo lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner on Friday called “signals of efficacy.”
Postal Service warns 46 states their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots
Anticipating an avalanche of absentee ballots as people avoid voting in person during the pandemic, the U.S. Postal Service recently sent detailed letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted — adding another layer of uncertainty ahead of the high-stakes presidential contest.
Washington state was not among them.
The letters sketch a grim possibility for the tens of millions of Americans eligible for a mail-in ballot this fall: Even if people follow all of their state’s election rules, the pace of Postal Service delivery may disqualify their votes.
The Postal Service’s warnings of potential disenfranchisement came as the agency undergoes a sweeping organizational and policy overhaul amid dire financial conditions. Cost-cutting moves have already delayed mail delivery by as much as a week in some places, and a new decision to decommission 10% of the Postal Service’s sorting machines sparked widespread concern the slowdowns will only worsen. Rank-and-file postal workers say the move is ill-timed and could sharply diminish the speedy processing of flat mail, including letters and ballots.
Washington state House Republican leader says he had COVID-19
OLYMPIA — House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, Thurston County, is the first Washington lawmaker known to have tested positive for COVID-19, posting on Facebook this week that he has completed a self-isolation period and is “feeling great now.”
In his Tuesday post, Wilcox wrote that he decided to get tested after developing a cough in early August, later followed by temperature spikes in the afternoons.
Lawmakers haven’t been at the Capitol since they adjourned in March. Any meetings have been held remotely, and it’s unclear what the 105-legislative session will look like when it convenes in January.
Rural families without internet face tough choice on school
BEATTYVILLE, Ky. — John Ross worries about his children returning to their classrooms this fall with coronavirus cases rising in Kentucky, but he feels he doesn’t have much of a choice: His family’s limited internet access makes it nearly impossible for the kids to keep up with schoolwork from home.
“They’re going to have their education,” the father of three in rural Lee County said as he recalled his children’s struggles to do their work this spring over a spotty cellphone connection.
Lee County, a community of around 7,000 people deep in the Appalachian Mountains, is one of many rural school districts around the country where the decision over whether to bring students back into classrooms is particularly fraught. As in other places, parents and officials are concerned about the virus, but dramatically limited internet access here also means kids could fall seriously behind if the pandemic keeps them home again.
Health insurance emergency order for telehealth extended again
An emergency order directing all state-regulated health insurers to cover a variety of COVID-19 related services has been extended until Sept. 15 by Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.
The order requires state-regulated insurers to cover telehealth visits, which include appointments by telephone and video chats. The order also extends to all medically necessary diagnostic testing for viral respiratory illnesses including the flu.
Drive-thru tests for COVID-19 won't require a co-pay or deductible under the order.
Kreidler first implemented the emergency order on March 5.
Alabama governor’s chief of staff quarantines after exposure
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff is quarantining at home after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Friday that Ivey’s Chief of Staff Jo Bonner does not have symptoms but is in quarantine at home.
Maiola said Bonner was not with the 75-year-old Republican governor this week and his wife Janee Bonner has not been around the governor in several months.
Fear and empathy at L.A. funeral home serving Black families
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When people began dying from COVID-19 in the United States, for a few weeks funeral home owner Candy Boyd declined to receive the remains of such patients.
There were too many unknowns, and Boyd didn’t feel like her employees had the training or equipment to safely handle the remains of people who may have active coronavirus infection in their bodies. But the calls kept coming. Desperate families said other funeral homes were also not receiving people who died of the virus.
Boyd, 53, decided she had to make it work. She reminded herself that she got into the funeral home business more than 10 years ago after running a construction company because she wanted to help people in their most vulnerable state. And the communities her funeral home serves, Black people and others of color in South Los Angeles, were clearly being hard hit.
“It tugged at my heart strings,” said Boyd. “To hear some of the stories I’ve heard in the last three months has been incredible. People having to say goodbye through an iPad, a window.”
“Many have not seen their family members in 30 days. The next time they see them is in a casket,” she said.
California governor on the hot seat over pandemic response
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has had a summer of muddled messaging and bad news in the coronavirus fight, a trend crystallized this week by his delayed response to a data error that caused a backlog of nearly 300,000 virus test results.
“The buck stops with me, I’m accountable,” he said in a tense Monday news conference, his first appearance since state officials revealed the error a week earlier. “No one’s trying to hide that, no one’s trying to mask that, we’re owning that, we’re moving forward to address those issues.”
His tone couldn’t have been more different than it was in March, when California’s public battle with the virus began and the state initially avoided the worst outcomes. In commanding news conferences held almost daily, he announced the country’s first statewide stay-at-home order and won mostly adherence from the state’s 40 million residents.
But things began to change in May, when Newsom, under pressure from business leaders, allowed parts of the economy to begin reopening under a complicated, county-by-county process. Within weeks he reversed course as confirmed cases and the positive test rate rose.
Canada-U.S border restrictions extended to at least September
TORONTO — The Canada-U.S. border will remain closed to non-essential travel for at least another month, Canada’s public safety minister said Friday.
The statement by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair came a day after Mexico announced a similar measure for its border with the United States.
The land border restrictions aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic were first announced in March and have been renewed monthly.
Many Canadians fear a reopening. Canada has flattened the epidemic curve while the U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any other country.
Essential cross-border workers like health care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers are still permitted to cross. Much of Canada’s food supply comes from or via the U.S.
Americans who are returning to America and Canadians who are returning to Canada are also exempted from the border closure.
Canada sends 75% of its exports to the U.S. and about 18% of American exports go to Canada. The U.S. Canada border is world’s longest between two nations.
British vacationers in France told to immediately return home or face 14-day quarantine
LONDON — This anxious, germaphobic summer just got a bit worse for 160,000 British citizens vacationing in France. They must return home immediately — or face a 14-day quarantine upon return to the United Kingdom.
The sudden announcement of emergency isolation measures by the British government, sparked by a rising number of coronavirus cases in France, took most by surprise.
Anyone — British citizens or travelers — arriving in the U.K. from France on Saturday will be ordered to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Britain and France share one of the most highly crossed borders in the world, and English tourists traditionally pour into France, Spain and Italy during the summer.
The isolation measures also apply to people arriving in the U.K. from the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba.
Washington park employees and volunteers are working overtime as people flock outdoors amid COVID-19
Visitation to Washington’s Enchantments has gone “berserk” in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns according to Carly Reed, the permit administrator for the scenic Cascades spot in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Leavenworth.
In the first week of August, one of her rangers counted 999 people on a single Saturday at Colchuck Lake, while other workers buried 200 piles of poop and toilet paper. “And we have four toilets up there,” Reed says.
On the weekend, parking winds a mile and a half down the road from the trailhead. Visitors bring loud music and flotation devices like stand-up paddleboards to the lake. “It’s not your normal wilderness experience,” Reed says.
A common refrain among public lands staff: Monday is the new Friday; weekends are now like holiday weekends.
Despite fears, cruise ships prepare to return to sea
CIVITAVECCHIA, Italy — Though cruising has been ordered to a halt in the United States, several major cruise liners are trying to restart their business in Europe, with Italy as the epicenter of the effort.
The companies have consulted with scientists, drawn up new safety protocols and received Italian government clearance; MSC Cruises, on its website, says passengers can now “cruise with confidence.”
But it remains unclear how risky it might be for people to climb back onboard and restart an activity that, at the beginning of the pandemic, helped seed the virus around the world and was connected to several dozen deaths.
Six months into pandemic, Washington state still struggles with COVID-19 data
When the state’s top health official announced this week that Washington would revamp how it counts negative COVID-19 test results, he said the change would give officials a more up-to-date snapshot of the disease.
But it also added even more delays to the state’s daily reporting of the positivity rate, a key metric that determines how many of those tested are infected with the virus.
Ongoing data troubles had already slowed reporting of the statewide positivity rate for 10 straight days — the latest in a series of technical problems hampering the state Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 case reporting since the pandemic erupted here in late February.
State health officials have variously blamed an overwhelmed disease reporting system, software challenges, methodology changes and other fits and starts for periodically stalling timely, comprehensive and accurate data reporting.
Trump and Biden trade barbs over coronavirus response, masks
WILMINGTON, Del. — President Donald Trump is attacking former Vice President Joe Biden for calling on governors to mandate that all Americans wear masks for the next three months, accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of politicizing an issue Trump himself has used for political gain in recent months.
Trump falsely claimed Biden was advocating for the president to use executive power to institute a nationwide mask mandate and that Biden was in favor of “locking all Americans in their basements for months on end.”
Biden did not call for an executive order, but he did at an earlier campaign event call for the institution of “a mask mandate nationwide, starting immediately.” Biden clarified, however, that it should be left up to the governors to make mask-wearing mandatory. He said nothing about keeping Americans indoors, but he has argued that economic reopenings in states have been rushed and without proper guidance from the federal government to keep Americans safe.
The back-and-forth marked a new line of attack from Trump, who is trailing Biden significantly in most nationwide and swing state surveys. Biden has made what he says is Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic — which has now caused the deaths of at least 167,000 people in the United States — a centerpiece of his attacks on the president.
Trump admits he’s blocking Postal Service funding to stop mail-in votes
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump frankly acknowledged that he’s starving the U.S. Postal Service of money to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him reelection.
In an interview on Fox Business Network, Trump explicitly noted two funding provisions that Democrats are seeking in a relief package that has stalled on Capitol Hill. Without the additional money, he said, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters who are seeking to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo on Thursday.
Trump’s statements come as he is searching for a strategy to gain an advantage in his November matchup against former Vice President Joe Biden. He’s pairing the tough Postal Service stance in congressional negotiations with an increasingly robust mail-in-voting legal fight in states that could decide the election.
New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown as virus cluster grows
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government on Friday extended a lockdown of its largest city, Auckland, for another 12 days as it tries to stamp out its first domestic coronavirus outbreak in more than three months.
The outbreak has grown to 30 people and extended beyond Auckland for the first time. Until the cluster was discovered Tuesday, New Zealand had gone 102 days without infections spreading in the community. The only known cases were travelers quarantined after arriving from abroad.
Health authorities believe the virus must have been reintroduced from overseas, but genome testing hasn’t found a link with any of the quarantined travelers. That has prompted authorities to investigate whether shipping workers were a source, after several employees at a food storage facility were infected.
Young adults report rising levels of anxiety and depression in pandemic
The collateral damage from the pandemic continues: Young adults, as well as Black and Latino people of all ages, describe rising levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, and increased substance abuse, according to findings reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a research survey, U.S. residents reported signs of eroding mental health in reaction to the toll of coronavirus illnesses and deaths, and to the life-altering restrictions imposed by lockdowns.
The researchers argue that the results point to an urgent need for expanded and culturally sensitive services for mental health and substance abuse, including telehealth counseling. In the online survey completed by some 5,400 people in late June, the prevalence of anxiety symptoms was three times as high as those reported in the second quarter of 2019, and depression was four times as high.
U.S. nursing homes in hot spots see virus surge
The novel coronavirus is surging back into U.S. nursing homes, where it killed tens of thousands at the start of the pandemic and now once again threatens some of the people most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The development is a discouraging result of widespread community transmission of the virus in many parts of the country and in hot spots where it is even less controlled. With staff — and in some cases patients and visitors — entering and leaving facilities, the community-acquired infection almost inevitably finds its way inside.
After we published several stories in the past week about masks, Seattle Times readers sent us a lot of great questions that were still on your minds.
On this week's FAQ Friday, we address a handful of those questions, including choosing the best one, washing it and, if masks are so effective, why don't we wear them during cold and flu season?
Plus, here’s more guidance on masks:
Catch up on the past 24 hours
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AMC Theaters will begin to reopen next week, showing throwback movies for a crazy-low throwback price.
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